Between the Sky and the Earth

Branko Francheschi

Between the Sky and the Earth

Branko Francheschi

Between the Sky and the Earth
Pavilion of the Republic of Croatia
55th Venice Biennale
(text from the catalogue)


The particular character of Central Europe is quite often explained by the syntagm Territory as fate and just how fickle this fate could be is really simple to understand from the great number of different concepts by which the boundaries of this territory are defined. Regardless of how many hundreds of miles these concepts are shifted over the maps, depending on their conceivers’ points of view, it is common for them all to define this region as a bridge that connects East and West of Europe or, more pragmatically, on which they are usually confronted or boiling all together. For our story the most relevant concept includes the areas of Podunavlje, river Danube basin, and Pannonian Plain. Once upon a time this used to be bottom of the prehistoric sea of the same name that, due to geological changes, turned into a gently undulating sea of fertile dark humus and crops, deeply lined by strong, wide rivers and even stronger cultural, religious and national force lines. Further focusing brings us to the region in which our story develops: the Croatian part of Baranja that like a geopolitical island floats near the very centre of the plain. This green triangle is separated from its mother plain by the swift flow of river Drava in west, mighty Danube on its east and Hungarian frontier on its north. Regardless of continuous, bewitching undulating of the plain in every direction as far as eye can reach, after crossing the bridge to Baranja, the time that proverbially runs slow in lowlands seems to pass even slower. Travellers find this mild, sleepy landscape utterly appeasing. However, throughout the history it proved itself as a dominant setting in which temperaments of variety of settlers, who had arrived over time in numerous immigration waves, were reduced to a complement of the slow drawl of local dialect, regardless of quick changes and alternating tides of always fluctuating cycles of political changes and divides that brought them together or set them apart. The triangle of Croatian Baranja, although close to the centre of lowlands, in every aspect looks like the end of the world, a periphery within the general marginality of its mother country. It is a landlocked island surrounded and imbued by water, isolated in its rurality where waves of fertile soil, marshes and vegetation seem as if they’re going to swallow all of that fragile tissue that people were weaving together and tearing apart. Life is here still ruled by the rhythm of nature, continuous changes of day and night, seasons, growth and withering of vegetation, while the existence, devoid of routine of foreseeable future, seems to evolve in a parallel universe. In Baranja it’s not easy to be young and have goals and visions. As soon as one gets bored with Saturday disco, there’s nothing else left, but to dream and create one’s own world, gain freedom and find like-minded company. During the ‘80s, in Beli Manastir, the administrative centre of Baranja, a wide variety of young people were brought together by their penchant for rock music and visual arts. Their spontaneous meetings at local cafés and bars gradually grew into somewhat more formal association such as the improvised Artistic Youth Club, organised within the wide activity span of People’s Technology Society. Unconsciously, they were repeating the pattern set by their neo-avant-garde predecessors from the ‘60s like the OHO Group from Slovenia who, inspired by the liberating vibrations of early psychedelic rock music, had kindled their restrained creative impulses in one of the most impressive contributions to the global revolution of conceptual art. The blasting fuse for the generation of the ‘80s was Post-punk and New Wave music and its artistic charge had prolific effect on the youth isolated on the grassy island.

Records were changing hands, just as the poetry and comic books and precious art monographs. Guitar riffs, dissonant sounds and rebellious verses intertwined with indirect influences of surrealism, naive art, and Russian avant-garde. Not unlike their artistic “great-grandfathers” from the ‘60s, the few of them, along with Kata Mijatović, thanks to the charisma of their most prominent member Zoran Pavelić, gathered into the art group The Swamp (Močvara) and spontaneously discovered the idiom of contemporary art. Their early exhibitions, mostly of paintings, organised in the local library, under Pavelić’s creative guidance, were opening up to the collective performances. That was the inception of freedom, the uncompromising creation of spiritual environment of their own at cultural periphery, amidst the countryside where even today there is no proper exhibition space. Their passage to exhibits in alternative spaces in Osijek was hastened by the war of 1991 and occupation of Baranja until 1998 which eventually brought The Swamp to dissolution and its members scattered all over Europe. Kata Mijatović, who at the time worked as lawyer for the municipality of Beli Manastir, according to her own words and in spite of the war, found art an already experienced possibility of not only her creative, but personal freedom as well. Thus she had no alternative – art became the sole condition of her survival. She swapped her secured subsistence for a dream about freedom and uncertain future of an artist: her law degree for a degree in arts.

Twenty years later, Kata Mijatović expressed this feeling of isolation interwoven with ideas of creative freedom and personal accomplishment using a universal metaphor inspired by the tradition of neo-avant-garde art. In her performance Sleeping between the Sky and the Earth, given from midnight until dawn on August 23rd, 2010, with her distinctively simple and subdued gesture, she has appropriated for a moment the variation of Ivan Kožarić’s sculpture The Shape of Space XIII (1965), freshly produced in A-crystal and newly installed in the public on terrace of the newly built Museum of Contemporary Art in Zagreb. In retrospective, the photograph that documents this performance and which, due to its symbolic strata, we have chosen as a visual for her Venetian presentation, sublimates almost all of the artist’s life experience and artistic standpoint. Zoran Pavelić, Kata’s partner in life and art and the only witness to the performance, took this picture at dawn after he’d spent the whole night guarding and filming the artist during her sleep in public. The performance is based upon the intuitive understanding and respect of Kožarić’s titanic œuvre and his importance as spiritual mentor for the generations of artists who have been, like Kata Mijatović and Zoran Pavelić themselves, building their poetics following the principles of neo-avant-garde. In the beginning of the ‘60s Kožarić’s approach to sculpture was based upon his research of sculptural presentation of outer and inner spaces, voids and solids and essential relationships between forms that surround the human existence or in which it is developed or which were created by it. The rounded form of the sculpture which touches the ground symbolises the Earth, while the slab laid upon its upturned edges represents the expanse of the sky. The empty space in the middle of this geocentric representation, curved into a cradle, is the space for human existence. Typically for his lucid simplicity, Kožarić turned the essentially human perspective of cosmos into space and form while leaving the beholder out of the composition. This, in Kožarić’s vision, sheltered, but empty space was chosen by Kata Mijatović as a suitable place in which she was going to assemble her elementary shakedown. Through this process, her longstanding work at introducing the subconscious into practical existence by means of artistic idiom of symbols was made present within the great tradition of neo-avant-garde art. At this the artist doesn’t refer only to the iconic masterpiece of national art. While conceiving the filmed documentary about the performance as its elementary medium for museum presentation, she also refers to Sleep (1963), the legendary anti-film by Andy Warhol, in which in one long, uninterrupted take the artist filmed his friend John Giorno sleeping for five hours and twenty minutes. Zoran Pavelić will use the very same method to document Kata’s six hours long sleep. On the level of cultural reference, this simple act connects two great neo-avant-garde artists who, unbeknown one to the other, were creating their art in parallel worlds and opposing social systems in two different parts of the world, thus changing the art of their age and laying foundations for the today perception of world and civilisation. In conception of this performance Kata Mijatović took the position of trans-generation and trans-cultural subject, while for the purposes of the intermediate method used for its realisation she is an impersonal object through whose subconscious state manifold influences and meanings are refracted, as it suites to the position of artist coming from transition society at global periphery. On the level of metaphor, in domain of spontaneous and auto-referential, nature also contributed to the stratification of performance. At dawn, dripping of the morning dew that had condensed on the celestial part of sculpture, outlined an ellipse of water around the sleeping artist thus separating the whole composition from its surroundings. Through the ripples of this figure the artist’s whole life and poetics may be evolving. We have set out from her native sleepy Baranja, separated from the rest of the word by bodies of swirling waters, its flows and swamps, crossing the invisible cultural force lines that divide periphery from centre, all the way to the central theme of her œuvre – division between the conscious and unconscious.

How many waters one has to cross? One of Kata Mijatović’s metaphoric crossings to the other side, which were presented in the ambiance installation Between the Sky and the Earth, turned into a figure with contents and spatial features that corresponded to the Venetian context of presentation. Performance The Unconscious: Canal Grande, which the artist is performing for Biennale Arte 2013, puts her into another cultural icon – a Venetian gondola in which she will be sleeping while floating the canals outspreading across the city. The symbolic character of this voyage is clearly outlined by her subtle intervention with the appropriated paraphernalia of the performance. The traditional black gondola has been painted white for the performance while the gondolier is dressed in black and balance between these two neo-avant-garde monochromes is established by grey pyjamas that the artist is wearing while sleeping in gondola surrounded by the medieval Venetian architecture rising from the water like in a dream. It is difficult to avoid historical references to the compositions by Gustave Doré, Joachim Patenier, Arnold Böcklin, Mirko Rački and other artists who had defined the ancient theme of crossing to the other side as a phenomenon. Kata Mijatović’s symbolic gesture about the world beyond, however, refers to the disclosure of the unconscious and anything beyond the conscious mind as important components of reality from which we’re separated only by the thin membrane of Western civilisation conventions. To demonstrate this repudiated, but ontologically omnipresent interchange between conscious and unconscious state of mind, Kata Mijatović in her works more often than not uses the water. Video recordings of these two performances, inspired by the icons of both neo-avant-garde and tradition, are projected at right angle to each other in corner of the pavilion’s lobby in order to establish not only the spatial connection between them, but to clearly set off their common theme – sleeping – and corresponding shapes of gondola and cradle in which this symbolic transition into the unconscious is simultaneously happening both in real and cultural sphere.

The role of water is here the additional connotative. In our present discourse water excellently explains how Kata Mijatović’s specific angle and characteristic artistic standpoint, located within the space from which she originates, articulate an individual and, within the artistic discourse, unexpected idiom. On the abstract, conceptual level its minimalistic economy surely points at the influences by avant-garde and neo-avant-garde. However, her specific sense for choice of materials, their textures, smells, flavours or functional poetic, as always visible in her final repertoire of props appropriated from the object world, is based upon her primary, direct relationship with nature which can be only experienced through country life and its intrinsic thriftiness borne out of necessity.  In Croatian contemporary art Kata Mijatović has brought a refined poetic of primary materials like salt, coal, glass, already mentioned water, organic matter such as feathers or logs, bare necessities like bread, linen or clothes, simple tools like wheelbarrow, pots, scissors, ladders and universally known constructions like cage. Besides, she recycles these objects and thus they’re present throughout her various installations or performances as lasting motifs. Sometimes they’re also reincarnated in her later works, often years after their first appearances. Although already in 1969, for their exhibition Forefathers, the OHO Group, in the spirit of then relation to the nature as well as the new realism inspired by Arte Povera, brought into the Museum of Contemporary Art in Zagreb roof tiles, dirt, tin buckets and planks, the series of installations Preparations, which Kata Mijatović created thirty years later using her nostalgic, lyric compositions of feathers, duvets, logs and pillows, is still remembered as one of the most striking first appearances on the local art scene in general. Into the influential local post-conceptual artistic scene and its incessant dialogue with ideological positions, cultural establishment, mass media environment and its own roots, she introduced an original combination of contemporary art idiom and poetic code that wasn’t based on the proverbial and unavoidable urban motifs and rehashed cultural patterns. In years to come her idiosyncratic artistic expression, in which she merged a new sense of realism with poetic charge and new artistic idiom, would turn always more significantly or more openly towards the domain of unconscious. It is exactly in the realm of unconscious that she locates the source of subjective, but also collective freedom. Starting from her artistic position she ventures to disclose and then, translating it into the multidisciplinary language of contemporary art, also overcome the universal problem and theme of ontological dichotomy of mental space and process into the conscious and unconscious. Her final goal becomes mapping of the neglected unconscious dimensions of reality and above all dreams. She thinks of dreams as a detachment and counterpoint to the realm of rational and material from which, in Western civilisation, the only correct image of the world, both historically and sociologically, is drawn and imposed. The dreams are going to become a certain ready-made pattern for all variegated projects she is about to pursue from that time. From the start she dismissed any potential theoretic support developed through Freud’s and Jung’s schools of psychoanalysis, referring only to the Freud’s famous definition of dreams as a royal path to the unconscious. Within her own world-view she defined the realm of unconscious, and most of all the mechanisms of dream as the last resort of freedom open to the uninhibited combinations of conceptions, those archetypical as well as those created by conscious and therefore necessarily contaminated mental processes. From this aspect Kata Mijatović considers sleep as a process correspondent to the artistic creation; thus using the maxim “Everybody is an artist when they dream”, she defines this process as two faces of essentially liberating human potential. Therefore she is going to develop her artistic strategy upon her own vision of social function of art and responsibility of artists. She is going to direct the meaning of her own concept of realisation of unconscious through art towards the affirmation of unconscious parameters for construction of a world image that is supposed to lead towards their synergy with conscious parameters. The conscious is today immersed into the culture of conforming to the existing order and on-going process of oblivion of unconscious domain where a huge, completely unexplored psychic energy lies. This energy is set free in dreams that are manifestations of the immaterial existence and also links to the realm of unconscious, helping to reveal the mysteries of existence and reality in which everything is happening on the level of exchange of information and energies. The unconscious never tricks us, it warns us about the false social and personal constructs and it directs us towards our own centre. Forgetting about the unconscious means to renounce unknown energetic potential beyond description resulting in unbalanced individuals, society and civilisation, full of unrest and confrontations.

Every civilisation from the beginning of times considered that dreams, as manifest form of unconscious function of mind, were a phenomenon indicating that reality is not as real as we may think. This is exactly what the famous saying by Zhuangzi, follower of Lao Tse from the 6th century BC is about: “Am I a man who dreamt that he was a butterfly or am I a butterfly dreaming about being a man?” Dreams indicate how problematic is the concept of perceptive projection of reality after which the reality is equated with its sensory perception. They also contribute to the argumentation adhering to the definition of reality as a mere projection of our minds. In the civilisation of today perception of time and space have completely changed. We increasingly co-exist in virtual worlds that we produce using technology while forgetting that already at our own, organic level we have the innate ability to create virtual worlds – this is exactly what our unconscious does in our dreams. The phenomenon of dream problematises our perception and conception of reality and because of the aforementioned changes today it is more important to become aware of it than ever before.

Her approach to the problematisation of reality using dream as a phenomenon able to raise our awareness about its ‘fragility’, Kata Mijatović has most clearly conceived in her online project Dream Archive. It has been ideated as a virtual pool in the infinite virtual space of Internet which is supposed to gradually get filled with people’s dreams, thus presenting always growing resistance to the tide of the omnipresent conscious. The constructions of reality produced by our conscious minds are juxtaposed by this accumulation of dreams presenting the freedom to create virtual worlds within our unconscious where human mind is what it effectively is – an unexplored potential. Dreams as a manifestation of the unconscious present the last free oasis for everything introvert and personal. By creating the narratives devoid of hierarchy, we resist to the conforming and socially imposed image of the world. Therefore dreaming and artistic creation coincide in their mechanisms of devolution of subliminal messages through images. In her artistic work Kata Mijatović overlaps these processes and realises herself through raising awareness of her dream as well as archiving and recreating the dreams of her own and of the others. She transfers the dreams into matter and physical act using a wide span of artistic procedures, from textual and interactive forms, public actions, spatial and ambience installations to printed editions and performances, culminating with a unique combination of video projection and performance that virtually renders the duality of these separate worlds.

Kata Mijatović made first notes of her own dreams in 1991, the year when the war in Croatia began. They represent a sort of mirrored diary, a diary of her subconscious that, from the most personal inner level, the level of her unconscious I, is a chronicle of that time. These notes were to become the basis of her initial installations and performances inspired by dreams. She conceived her first reinterpretation of dream in 1999, virtually materialising the unconscious in physical space with the installation named Coal from the Unconscious, realised in front of SC Gallery in Zagreb. This was the dream: “I go to an abandoned coalmine where a heap of coal and wheelbarrow wait for me. I load coal into the wheelbarrow and push it out into the daylight”. It is about a subliminal message that seems to have determined the path of her career in arts. The installation consists of a closed metal cage filled with one ton of coal on top of which is placed an overturned wheelbarrow. This is a mysterious composition which, in the spirit of surrealistic aesthetic and ready-made poetic, waits for its solution. The artist re-used this dream and elements of its materialisation, because of their programmatic clarity and concision, for the performance I’m not aware (2002), held also in front of SC Gallery in Zagreb, and from there derived the installation Cage-Ladder (2005,Filip Trade Collection). The dream itself was about to become a template for her performance Resume (2005) in MM Centre in Zagreb, which was created by a particular double exposure method that she had developed over previous years. This is a procedure in which Kata Mijatović gives her performance in front of a projection of previously filmed identical performance. Spontaneous overlapping and aberrations create an amazing effect that indicates towards the problems stemming out from our split psychological potential.

A variation of the installation Coal from the Unconscious has been conceived as a central composition for the Venetian pavilion. The cage is levitating and it is open for the visitors to enter it and submit their dreams at the online portal Dream Archive. The composition consisting of heap of coal with overturned wheelbarrow on its top is placed outside of the cage as a call to and symbol of releasing of the unconscious. Visitors participate in the process of general liberation by entering the cage and submitting their dreams; these dreams are simultaneously projected onto the walls of the pavilion or in the virtual public space of web portal, thus being completely released from their subconscious.

Kata Mijatović has used notes of her own dreams in 2001, ten years after she wrote them down, for the ambience installation Dreams – 1991, executed in the Art Gallery in Slavonski Brod. Here for the first time the copies of written notes of dreams appear as integral part of the work. In order to make her intent to bring out the unconscious into the conscious (or public) more manifest, the texts copied in black felt-tip pen on transparent nylon sheets were laid down in the open space of the gallery’s inner court. Columns of the porch surrounding the court were for this occasion painted black up to diverse heights. The edges of black painted fields optically connected into a continuously undulating line so that the whole court seemed like a pool on which bottom floated the dreams. That same year, in co-operation with the Miroslav Kraljević Gallery and after the design by Ivan Kraljević, Kata Mijatović connected her notes into an online interactive project Dream Net, Dream Net can be searched by the choice of key words. Once the page is reached, the visitor can click offered hyperlinks thus continuing to navigate through the labyrinth-like structure. While traversing from one dream to another, on the screen appear photographs from the artists own archive, made by Zoran Pavelić and depicting their domestic life from 1991 to 2001. These photographs suggest parallel realities, associative visual fields that introduce visitors into the texts of chosen dreams. Key words from these dreams are going to reappear as an unfinished dream in the three-channelled video The Ride (2011). There the words are appearing and disappearing on a panoramic shot of winter landscape, as seen through the windshield of bus driving from Zagreb to Osijek. The snow covered windshield is a barely visible membrane dividing the experience of ride through the real continuum of space-time from the symbolic travel through the psychological space of dreams. The dream about the boy with golden eyes from 1991, the artist realised in 2007 as the video work Visible/Invisible in Bačva Gallery in Zagreb.  

Although from her first noted dream to its first reinterpretation had passed almost ten years, this was promptly followed by animation of friends, artists and other professionals from artistic circles and involvement of their dreams into the project. That same year, 2001, this expansion of dreams was used for the project Selected Dreams, consisting of series of twenty-three photo prints on which, next to donated dream, was also full name and photo portrait of the donator printed. In 2002, in another project with the same name, texts of these dreams were printed as posters. The posters were mounted at busy public places around the city thus assuming the form of public advertising. In following years Kata Mijatović performed a series of reinterpretations of other people’s dreams, using different media: from the performances like Željko’s Dream (2004), Markita’s Dream (2004) and Marijan’s Dream (2005), and broadcasting of the recorded audio tracks of dreams at the exhibition Selected Dreams – More real than reality (2005) in Karas Gallery in Zagreb and public actions Two dreams at the Days of Performance in Osijek (2009) to the video works Vlasta’s Dream/The Crowd (2011), Božena’s Dream/The Erasers (2011) and Dreams from the Underpass (2011). Finally, all her friends’ and colleagues’ dreams were collected and published in the book Selected Dreams in 2012.

All mentioned video works and videos documenting her performances together with videos recreating dreamlike situations like Forsythias (2002), Robert’s Messages (2003), Graffiti from Florence (2009), Screaming (2009), Luka and Matej from Branjin Vrh (2009), Choir (2010) are presented on the eleven screens mounted around the central installation of Coal from the Unconscious: Zattere. Their alternating projections, screened according to the playlists defined for each screen, intertwine and overlap unpredictably in space and time. This multilayered ambiance presentation of Kata Mijatović’s œuvre serves at the same time to introduce visitors into the central installation and also to induce them to open up and present their own dreams in public space.

Trying to gather as many dreams as possible and thus accomplish her mission in the affirmation of unconscious at the largest possible scale, Kata Mijatović has devised an open, globally accessible and constantly growing online Dream Archive Her personal archive is only its starting point. The archive additionally expands to the interdisciplinary web portal that includes various researches, interpretations and manifestations of anything unconscious. Portal communicates to its users via interface that enables simple online upload of dreams into the database. The database can be easily searched by using the dreams index and another search possibility is also provided by the software particularly designed to form a network of different data and search criteria. The final goal of the project is to become a unique tool and inspiration for the co-operation between different disciplines that research the unconscious, albeit from different standpoints, for better understanding of human existence and life in general. The interactive portal Dream Archive is a social sculpture by its character and it represents the final merger of Kata Mijatović’s artistic vision with collective awareness. It is also a free tool for dissemination of information about the unconscious on global level.

The layout for Biennale project Between the Sky and the Earth comprises the possibility of access to Dream Archive as part of the installation Coal from the Unconscious. Here the portal functions as an archive within the archive, since all around it the multimedia review of Kata Mijatović’s œuvre about dreams is presented. In further development of Dream Archive project, its portal will encompass and connect interactive contents that will open communication channels for the research of dreams in arts, psychology, sociology and philosophy. Involvement of great number of users will create a specific global pool of dreams and unclose the space meant for research of what people of today dream. The questions to which we still don’t have final answers will also be discussed: why people dream and what is the function of the unconscious in the construction of reality? In our times the world is becoming more and more like a multiplied, conformed construction of the fully aware ‘I’. This dominant model of construction of reality is a completed scheme into which we enter the very moment we’re born. The images of the world that the aware ‘I’ swiftly dispatches and receives, more often than not serve only to preserve or upgrade the pre-existing social constructs. In this matter these images do not recognise the unconscious and they don’t need it to disclose the universal mystery of existence, although this inner space defines us more than we’re ready to admit. While ancient civilisations in their understanding of the world around us included the energies of mind behind the aware ‘I’ and beyond the rational, our civilisation keeps everything unconscious at distance and uses it only as a tool of suppression. We dream almost half of our lives, staying within the unconscious, which is the fact of which, for some reason, we don’t want to become aware of. Yet, our only way to escape the tools of mass control like political or media manipulation is only in our dreams. Thus the unconscious is, primarily in dreams, becoming one of the last oases of freedom and inner and private life that defies the conformed image of the world.

Branko Franceschi